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December 2007

Twelve young photographers from around the world recently experienced a week they are unlikely to forget – World Press Photo’s 14th Joop Swart Masterclass at the Foam photography museum in Amsterdam. CPN was invited to drop in on what is an inspiring and very personal event.

The photographers participating in the Joop Swart Masterclass (named after the late honorary chair of the World Press Photo Foundation) were selected earlier this year by an international committee from 127 nominees. They were: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Iraq; Olivia Arthur, Great Britain; Christoph Bangert, Germany; Kate Brooks, United States; Alexandra Demenkova, Russia; Agnes Dherbeys, France; Cédric Gerbehaye, Belgium; Rafal Milach, Poland; Munem Wasif, Bangladesh; Sirio Magnabosco, Italy; Irina Werning, Argentina and Xin Zhou, China.

In November they spent six days with seven ‘masters’ exploring the ethical and moral aspects of photojournalism and discussing their photo essays on this year’s theme, ‘Fragile’. Their work was published at the end of the week as a book of the same name, and is available from World Press Photo (WPPh). In addition, each of the masters gave a presentation, from David Burnett’s public lecture on a lifetime in photography to Brian Storm’s look at what can be achieved with a combination of sound and images.


Shahidul Alam (left) talks to Russian photographer Alexandra Demenkova during the Masterclass.

The masters were: Shahidul Alam, Bangladesh, photographer/managing director Drik Picture Library and Patshala Institute of Photography; Susan Bright, Great Britain, independent curator and author; David Burnett, United States, photographer Contact Press Images; Ayperi Ecer, Sweden/Turkey, vice president picture business development, Reuters; Jan Grarup, Denmark, photographer Noor/Politiken; Barbara Stauss, Switzerland, photo editor Mare magazine and Brian Storm, United States, president

The Masterclass is designed to be challenging for all involved. Irina Werning, a young photographer from Argentina, said: “This week has given me the curiosity to explore different directions in my work.” Another of the ‘students’, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, joked that his life had been “so much easier” before the Masterclass.

Ayperi Ecer is vice president picture business development at Reuters. It was her fourth time as a master at the Joop Swart sessions. She told WPPh that during a career, photographers might need to re-invent themselves several times. She explained to the young photographers that the masters were just as fragile as they were, and that the profession of photography was itself fragile.
“We are not in control of this profession,” she said. “[The] control is not there, because we’re in between different worlds. If you want to be in media today you have to have a point of view and you have to have a style and deal with bigger and longer-term issues, such as climate and social issues – so news photography now is broader than it’s ever been.”
The Masterclass creates a community and allows photographers to “share their doubts” without any pressure, and this is rare, she says. “The masters can also learn a lot.”


Xin Zhou discusses her work with David Burnett.

Evelien Kunst was the Masterclass’s project manager for the eighth time this year. “Every single Joop Swart Masterclass is unique,” she said. “The reason for this is that, in the first place, [it’s] about people and what inspires them, moves them, makes them secure or insecure.
“Imagine… take a group of 19 people and let them spend day and night with each other for six days. One cannot hide any more behind clichés or predetermined roles. Every year the group consists of different people, therefore every year is different. However I noticed that this year people were extremely open and not afraid to show their vulnerable sides. I believe this makes the whole experience for everyone involved – participating photographers, masters and WPPh staff – very special.”

For more information on the Joop Swart Masterclass and filmed interviews with the participants, go to